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steam locomotive tender liveries


16 Apr.1853 - 16 Apr.2002


Did you think steam locomotives meant dull and drab black machines with black tenders, with plain, white lettering to boot?

Initially, maybe. Most steam engines were black. But later on, steam was actually quite colorful. Each region or railway zone had a unique livery applied to the tenders of its steam locomotives, with a cream or yellow band running all along on the sides of the running plate (walkways on either side of the engine).

Apart from zonal liveries, which were standard all over that particular railway zone, often one could also spot odd liveries applied to individual locomtives, purely on the whims of the shed staff, the standard color code for that zone notwithstanding. It was therefore fascinating to see steam engines with two or even three tone tenders. Of course, these were the exceptions, rather than the rule.

Smokeboxes were a different kettle of fish altogether.  Even engines bearing the standard region color code on the tender had different colors painted on the smokebox door: red, silver, blue, white, the most common being silver or red. Not to mention the star which almost all engines carried on the smokebox door.

Here is a rundown of standard region-wise color codes for steam locomotives used on the IR.

Note that it was rather difficult to match the exact shade that appeared on the locomotive tenders proper, but I have tried to achieve this with the greatest degree of accuracy possible. Barring limitations to technology, the actual picture accompanying some of the color shades might appear a tad different on account of fading, dust or grime on the engine.



The Northern Railway tenders were brick red in color, with cream lettering and a cream band. The lettering was sometimes in Hindi, which is not possible to duplicate here.



N.  R.

At times, the cream ribbon was dispensed with, and the tender was just plain brick red with cream lettering.

N.   R.


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A WP in standard NR red livery leaves Varanasi with an express train. (Photo by John Lacey)



The North Eastern once had the reputation of being the only railway with an almost 100% metre gauge trackage. NER engines were identical to the NR engines as far as tender liveries went, only, plain brick red tenders were more common than ones with the cream band.


N.   E.


Although full black tenders are normally associated with locomotives withdrawn from active service (see last item below), some NER engines used to sport full black tenders even in their prime. However, sky blue lettering was used instead of cream. Full black tenders were more common on the metre gauge steam locomotives.


N.  E.



When one talks about the NF, one invariably thinks of the Darjeeling Himalayan line. A marginal amount of mg and bg trackage does exist on the NF, unfortunately, very little information on this is available at present.

Suffice to say however that the NF was almost identical to the NE as far as liveries went, so the steam locomotives on the NF too had either full brick tenders with cream marking, or full black with sky blue markings.


N.   F.




N.  F.

The present Darjeeling livery is sky blue with white lettering, as seen below. 

N.   F.


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A 'B' locomotive of the DHR wearing the standard blue livery of the DHR. (Photo by Terry Case)

For a brief period,  Darjeeling locomotives wore a green livery with yellow lettering, as seen below.  Two locomotives in this green livery are preserved: one at the National Rail Museum, New Delhi, and another outside the Rail Bhavan headquarters of the IR, also at New Delhi. The engine at the NRM has unfortunately been painted over in an unusual playground livery of lemon green. 

Other liveries occasionally applied to the Darleeling engines have been a two tone red/cream and black, but these liveries have been generally short lived. Blue continues to this day (2000), so much so that even the new diesel engines put on line recently bear this livery.

N.   F.


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A 'B' locomotive of the DHR wearing the unusual green livery referred to in the above text. This example is preserved at the Rail Museum, New Delhi, The engine has now been painted over in playground livery. (Photo scanned from a magazine.)



Eastern Railway engines bore black/green tenders, though the green tended to be a bit more dark than on the Central Railway. The livery was inverted (green above and black below) on the ER electric locomotives and was used for several decades before the standard maroon crept in.



E.  R.

Quite unlike the CR, which stuck steadfastly to cream or even almost white lettering and dividing line, the ER sometimes incorporated a red dividing line, while retaining the cream lettering.


E.  R.

Occasionally, ER steam engines used to skip the black upper band and have deep bottle green tenders. An occasional blue tender could also be spotted once in a while.

E.   R.


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A WP in ER full olive livery approaches Howrah with an express train. (Photo by Jishnu Mukherji)



Steam engines on the South Eastern usually carried  black/brick red tenders, quite similar to those on the Western Railway.



S.  E.

serlvry.jpg (247892 bytes)

A WP in standard SE black/red livery leaves skirts Chilka Lake with a short local passenger train. Note cashew plantations in the background. (Photo by John Lacey)

The predecesor to the SE was the Bengal Nagpur Railway (BNR), which started the practice of painting larger than life numbers on the tenders of its locomotives. The SE carried on this tradition for a while, and it was quite common to see SE engines bearing the standard tenders with the engine number in large cream letters in place of the usual owning railway indication.


7 0 5 6

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A WP on the SE with large lettering on her tender. The train is the Howrah Ahmedabad Express. (Pic. by John Lacey).



Central had the elegant black/green livery, which it displayed with pride on all its steam locomotives. Jhansi shed had an enviable reputation for the pristine condition of its locomotives, so a sparkling Jhansi WP in green/black livery was a terrific treat for weary eyes. The green was a tad lighter than on the ER, though in later years, this was not quite discernible.



C.  R.

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A pristine WP in standard CR black/green livery takes a breather at Mathura with the Taj Express from Agra to Delhi.(Photo by John Lacey)

Although the super Taj Express in navy/cream looked terrific enough with the green/black WP in the lead, some of the WPs were given a cream/blue livery to match with the rest of the train. Of course, the blue was at times considerably lighter than the navy of the cars, and it was not always possible to turn the same engine round for the return journey, given the cantankerous nature of the steamers coupled with the tough operating conditions that called for continuous high speed running with few stops. Thus the blue/cream engines were often seen hauling other trains, with green/black engines heading the Taj, but nonetheless, the livery is worth mentioning. 

The ng MLR tanks of the Matheran hill railway sported this livery as standard.


C.  R.

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A dimunitive MLR is blue/light cream livery makes a hefty effort up the hill on her run from Neral on the plains to Matheran, high up in the mountains. (Photo by John Lacey)

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A WP haules the Taj Express towards Agra. Note that the blue/navy tender has been matched with the rest of the train. (Photo by Terry Case)



The Western was always very meticulous in it tender livery, and all steam locomotives on the WR bore the standard black/brick red tenders.



W.  R.

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A ng ZE in the Dabhoi shed exhibits the standard WR black/red livery.  (Photo by Terry  Case)



South Central steam locomotives were rather colorful with their two-tone brick red/green tenders. The contrast was quite striking, and the tank engines looked downright gay and cheerful.



S.  C.

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A YD in standard SC russet/green livery banks a passenger train up the arduous Braganza Ghats in Goa.  (Photo by John Lacey)

At times, the brick red was dispensed with altogether, and the tenders appeard plain green. Plain green tenders could be spotted near Khandwa and Akola.

S.   C.


Green gave way to blue in certain regions of the SC, though blue was not as widespread as green. SC engines with full blue tenders could be spotted in Goa, at Purna and Miraj. I once spotted two trains leave Poona almost simultaneously: one towards Madras with the russet/green tender, and one towards Miraj with the blue tender.

S.   C.


The most unusual livery applied to SC locomotives was light blue/navy with yellow trim, same as seen on the mighty diesels at Guntakal. This livery was used on the mg YP locomotives hauling suburban trains in and around Secunderabad/ Hyderabad.


S.  C.

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A YP bearing the light blue/navy tender and light blue smoke deflectors hauls a suburban train near Hyderabad. (Photo by John Lacey)

Green and blue were exceptions rather than the rule however, and a vast majority of the SC engines bore the standard brick red/green livery.



The earliest Southern Railway engines came in with black/scarlet tender livery as standard.



S.  R.

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A WD awaits shunting duties at Madras Beach. Note the black/russet livery. The russet used in combination with deep black was actually of a much brighter shade that the standard SR red. (Photo by John Lacey)

The black soon gave way to silver grey, and the scarlet to the usual brick red as on other regions, and the Southern standardized on the sliver grey/brick red tenders till the very end of steam.


S.  R.

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A YP in standard SR light grey/red livery at Madras. The engine coupled to this is wearing an one off odd green/red livery. The shed probably ran out of silver grey paint! (Photo by Terry Case)

Given the meticulous temparament of the Southerners, the silver grey/brick red tenders were steadfastly adhered to all over the region. The only exception was the Nilgiri Mountain Railway between Mettupalayam and Ootacamund. (Ooty: now Udagamandalam). The majestic X class tanks on the Nilgiri line bear a blue livery with yellow lettering. This livery has been carried forward to the diesel locomotives put on the line recently, except that two broad cream colored bands have been added on the diesels.

S.   R.


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A  X class locomotive in the usual 'blue mountain' livery rests easy at Coonoor shed as she awaits the call of duty. (Photo by Satish Pai.)



On all regions of the IR, a black tender with yellow lettering meant that the engine has been withdrawn from active service. This meant that the engine will no longer be used for main line workings. Rather, black tendered engines were used only for shunting or station pilot duties. This was standard on all regions of the IR.



C.  R.

At times, the yellow line was dispensed with completely, leaving a plain black tender with yellow lettering.

W.  R.


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A YG at Jaipur wearing full black shows that she has been withdrawn from active service  by shunting the rake of the Pink City Express back into the stabling yard. (Photo by John Lacey)



On occasion, one could spot an odd man out: a steam locomotive that has been the subject to the fond attentions of her shed crew. The result sometimes was a very colorful, if  odd color scheme, with the tender going totally off tangent.  Occasionally, the change in the color of the tender would be to match with the livery of the train the locomotive hauled.

Although such oddities were few and far between, two I can recall are shown below. Both were on the South Eastern.



S. E.


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A WP on the SER shows off her unusual blue/cream livery. (Pic scanned from the book 'Modern Locomotives'.)


S. E.


This bright yellow/russet livery (the russet was sometimes substituted with pink) was used on ng locomotives around Nainpur and Jabalpur on the CR.


N.  R.

Although this is totally unusual and rare, several railfans have spotted WP locomotives in the typical 'Rajdhani livery' of scarlet and cream. The Air Conditioned Express of yore was reportedly hauled by locomotives in this livery.

For a very brief period, some B class engines of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway also bore this Rajdhani livery.


S.  R.

The very meticulous SR always stuck to their standard silver grey/russet livery and was very conservative in following this livery. However, at times, especially in the later years of steam, the silver was substituted with light blue (blue/grey) as seen above. The shed probably ran out of silver paint!

But that did not explain the unusual lime green/scarlet livery seen below, worn by some shunting engines, espcially in the last years of steam.


S.  R.

WD class shunting engines  on the SR bearing the usuaual lime green/scarlet livery referred to in the above text. (Pic. by Terry Case).


W.  R.

I have seen at least one picture of a W class ng steam locomotive at Dabhoi in Gujarat wearing a black green tender instead of the usual WR black red. For a moment, I was astounded as to how a CR locomotive came to be stabled in the middle of the WR, that too in ng territory. I later realized that someone at the shed had been trying out his coloring skills!



With an object as charismatic as the steam locomotive, it wouldn't be a wrong guess to imagine that these liveries are but indicative. The love the crew and shed staff had for this machine meant that standard liveries notwithstanding, several unique and innovative schemes were thought up and lovingly applied to the favorite locomotives all over the network. Here is a fascinating insight at the non-standard liveries kind courtesy of Terry Case.

Satish is correct re NEFR, generally the same as the NER, all a dark red, only the Darjeeling engines being blue, but they too were once in the dark red livery.
I think the thing to remember is the exceptions, for instance the NR had  a number of WPs in blue livery at various depots and at various times.
The NER had a "Kasangi" depot variation for a time, which involved a silvered tank top and parts of the engine being in silver paint.
Engines from Khadwa/Akola sported an all green livery at one point, that was a lighter colour than the standard green and black.
The SER had an odd yellow lined livery that gave way to the one you have described, but narrow gauge locos at Raipur were painted crimson red. I have also seen the shunter at Kharagpur in a red and cream livery.
The ER used to have an Olive green, before reverting to a green and black, but just to be different Jhaja WPs were painted all black and looked fine on the express trains!
I've also seen a 1970@ pic of a WP in blue and white livery leaving Howrah on the Black Diamond express.
The SR varied the paint jobs on the top of m.g. tender locos and around the smoke deflectors, I think this was according to local depots wishes, Mysore YPs certainly sported different colours in their outling details and tender tank tops ..and Bangalore WD shunters were in pass livery with non - standard colur on the tender top.
I could go on! Suffice to say the variations were plentiful and this will give me the opportunity to post a picture of the SCR shunter at Manmad in its unusual blue some stage!
Cheers from Terry.

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